Reality show contestant shares TV experience
By Jennifer Harr, Herald-Standard
"Survivor: Palau" contestant Ian Rosenberger speaks to incoming freshmen at Penn State, The Eberly Campus during orientation Friday. (Ed Cope/Herald-Standard)
Ian Rosenberger takes ribbing in stride about his 11th hour bow-out in the "Survivor: Palau" finals.
When one student at Friday's freshman orientation at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus yelled out "third place" to the 24-year-old former dolphin trainer, Rosenberger responded with a hearty laugh.
"Tough crowd," he said.
A native of Ambridge, near Pittsburgh, Rosenberger came to talk to freshmen as part of a speaking tour at all of Penn State's campuses. The stint will include a return to his alma mater in University Park, where Rosenberger studied animal sciences and special education and graduated last May.
"And then I became a professional reality show contestant," he said, laughing. "Actually, I'm an unemployed ex-reality TV show contestant who was a third-place winner."
About two months after he graduated, Rosenberger was out in Key Largo, Fla., when a woman approached and asked him if he wanted to be on television. In October, he went to the small island of Palau, where he competed in Survivor, a game that sequesters castaways and divides them into tribes that compete on an island for 40 days.
Rosenberger competed in the show's final immunity challenge to determine who would become the final two Survivors to compete for the $1 million grand prize. The challenge, which was a test of longevity, came down to Rosenberger and this year's winner, firefighter Tom Westman.
Citing the need to end the game with his integrity intact, he stepped down, leaving Westman to take another contestant with him to the finals.
Rosenberger said that as he was standing on a bobbing buoy in the contest, he kept flashing back to one line in the Penn State alma mater: "May no act of ours bring shame." With that in mind, he struck a deal with Westman to ensure that the firefighter would take the remaining contestant, Katie Gallagher, to the finals. She was angry with Rosenberger for a supposed double cross on his behalf during the game.
The deal shocked many Survivor viewers, but Rosenberger said he has no regrets.
"I have a little sister at home and I couldn't justify winning that million bucks, and not setting an example for her," he said.
He's not necessarily sorry that he missed out on the million.
"A million dollars can always be made, but your integrity can never be bought back," Rosenberger told the students.
The show "Survivor" mirrors college in many ways, he said, presenting each person with choices and opportunities.
"Being on TV put me out of my comfort zone. It forced me to make choices I wasn't used to making. That's kind of what you guys are doing here," Rosenberger said.
He said that his tribe, made up of older players, "went up against the Ambercrombie & Fitch tribe," made up of younger, and seemingly stronger players.
But unlike the other tribe, Rosenberger said his Koror tribe talked about the strengths and weaknesses of their players, deciding who would be best to compete in what challenges. The Koror tribe went on to win challenge after challenge, eliminating all but one player from the other tribe.
Likewise, in college, Rosenberger told the students it's important to engage themselves with the people around them.
While a student at the University Park campus, Rosenberger was president of the student government and listed his involvement in THON as one of the highlights of his college career. THON is Penn State's annual dance marathon to raise money for children with cancer. Last year, Rosenberger said, the student-run philanthropy raised $4.2 million.
Rosenberger also used the 2005 Corvette as an example for the students. To run, the car needs fuel, a driver and a spark plug, he said.
Likewise, the students need to care for themselves, know where they want to go, and have the motivation to get there.
"Take advantage of all the things that are going to keep your gas can full," he said, urging the students to get involved in campus activities.
He also told them to use the network of people at college who are there to help, be they professors, advisors or different organizations around campus.
Rosenberger said his time on "Survivor" changed him, teaching him what it was like to be without as he and his tribemates scoured for food, and it taught him a greater appreciation for his family and friends.
"You wonder over and over why you signed up for it," Rosenberger said.
During the course of the show, the lanky 6-foot-8 man lost 40 pounds, only 20 of which he's regained, he said. When he got back from the show, all Rosenberger said he wanted to do was "hole myself up in my room and eat."
In addition to visiting other Penn State campuses, Rosenberger said, he is going to shoot a commercial for Chevrolet. He does a radio show in Pittsburgh, and splits his time between Pennsylvania and Los Angeles.
Right now, Rosenberger said, he is glad he did "Survivor" for the changes it's brought to his life and the doors it's opened.
College, he told the freshmen, can do the same thing.
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